Tanuki

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An example of a furry depiction of a tanuki. (The fursona of Tanukisan)

Tanuki (タヌキ or 狸) is often mistakenly translated as raccoon or badger, but is in fact a raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), a distinct canid species native to Japan, China, Korea and southeastern Siberia. . Tanuki have been part of Japanese mythology since ancient times. The mythical tanuki is reputed to be mischievous and jolly, a master of disguise and shapeshifting, but somewhat gullible and absent-minded.

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[edit] Tanuki in folklore

The current humorous image of tanuki is thought to have been developed during the Kamakura era. The wild tanuki has unusually large testicles, a feature often comically exaggerated in artistic depictions of tanuki. Tanuki may be shown with their testicles flung over their backs like a traveller's pack, or using them as drums. Tanuki are also typically depicted as having large bellies. They may be shown drumming on their bellies instead of their testicles, especially in children's art.

Statues of tanuki can be found outside many Japanese temples and restaurants, especially noodle shops. These statues often wear big, cone-shaped hats and carry bottles of sake in one hand, and a "promissory note" (a bill it never pays), or sometimes an empty purse, in the other hand. Tanuki statues always have a large belly, and contemporary sculptures may or may not show them with the traditional large testicles. These exaggerated features represent fertility and plenty. Called Kin-tama (Golden Balls) in Japanese, the testes are supposedly symbols of good luck rather than overt sexual symbols (the Japanese are more tolerant of low humor than most Western nations).

During the Kamakura and Muromachi eras, some stories began to include more frightening, man-eating tanuki. The story of "Kachi-kachi Yama" features a tanuki that clubs an old lady to death and serves her to her unknowing husband as "old lady soup". Other stories report tanuki as being harmless and productive members of society. Several shrines have stories of past priests who were tanuki in disguise. Shapeshifting tanuki are sometimes believed to be a transformation of the souls of household goods that were used for one hundred years or more.

A popular tale known as Bunbuku chagama is about a tanuki who fooled a monk by transforming into a tea-kettle. Another is about a tanuki who tricked a hunter by disguising his arms as tree boughs, until he spread both arms at the same time and fell off the tree. Tanuki are said to cheat merchants with leaves they have magically disguised as paper money. Some stories describe tanuki as using leaves as part of their own shape-shifting magic.

In metalworking, tanuki skins were often used for thinning gold. As a result, tanuki became associated with metal mines and metal craftwork and were marketed as front yard decoration and good luck charm for bringing in prosperity.

[edit] Name

While tanuki are prominent in Japanese folklore and proverbs, they were not always distinguished from other animals. In local dialects, tanuki and mujina (狢, kyujitai: 貉) can refer to raccoon dogs or badgers. An animal known as tanuki in one region may be known as mujina in another region. In modern Tokyo standard dialect, tanuki refers to raccoon dogs and anaguma refers to badgers. Regional dishes known as tanuki-jiru ("tanuki soup") may contain either raccoon dog or badger, although the taste of the latter is often preferred.

Originally, the characters for tanuki, 狸 (kyujitai: 貍) were used to refer to other mid-sized mammals, mostly wild cats. [citation needed] Since wild cats live only in limited regions of Japan (e.g. Iriomote, Okinawa), it is believed that the characters began to be used to mean "tanuki" instead starting around the Japanese feudal era. This shift in meaning, along with the rarity of the raccoon dog outside Japan, may have contributed to confusion over the proper translation of "tanuki" into other languages.

In Japanese slang, tanuki kao ("tanuki face") refers to women with wide-set eyes, wide foreheads, full lips, and a round face. Kitsune kao ("fox face") refers to women with narrow faces, close-set eyes, thin eyebrows, and high cheekbones.

[edit] Popular culture

  • The Tom Robbins novel, Villa Incognito, features a central character portrayed as "the" Tanuki, either an avatar of or physical representation of the spirit-being of the same name. Both the wild animals and their folkloric counterparts play a significant role.
  • In a short story by Jan Hodgman, "Tanuki" (The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Thirteenth Annual Collection, ed. Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling), a mischievous temple tanuki may or may not be the reincarnation of a Zen monk.
  • In Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario has the ability to change into a tanuki by using a power-up called the "Tanooki suit". While wearing the Tanooki Suit, Mario gains the ability to turn into a statue, which resembles a stone Jizō. When Mario transforms into Raccoon Mario, he uses a leaf to complete the shapeshifting, like the tanuki of legend. Also, in Super Mario Sunshine, there are raccoon-like creatures that sell Shine Sprites for 10 blue coins each. These are likely to be tanuki, due to their light brown colouration.
  • A character named Heinrad in the Beast Wars Neo Transformers series has the alternate form of a tanuki (albeit a tanuki with a clock in its stomach).
  • In the Animal Crossing series of video games, the store owner is a bipedal talking raccoon dog named "Tom Nook", which is a play on the word "tanuki".
  • In the video game "Pocky & Rocky", released by Natsume in 1992, one of the two main characters is Rocky, a tanuki and Pocky's pet. In the game and its sequels Pocky & Rocky 2 released in 1994, and Pocky & Rocky with Becky, released in 2001, Rocky has the ability to throw green leaves as an attack as well as the power to turn into a statue. In Japan the series is known as KiKi KaiKai.
  • In Studio Ghibli's film Pom Poko the shapeshifting tanuki are fighting construction workers, who are destroying their habitat, with use of their illusion powers and large scrotums. Some viewers were surprised at the depiction of giant animal testes (called "pouches" in the American version) in the film when it was imported to the United States and distributed by Disney. 'Tanuki' was translated as 'raccoon' for both the English subtitles and the English dub of the film.[1]
  • In Hiroyuki Takei's manga, Shaman King, the tanuki Ponchi wears nothing, revealing large testicles that he uses to restrain/smother Manta Oyamada in an early appearance. The anime censors this by including a diaper and using his stomach instead.
  • In the manga Yu Yu Hakusho one story involves an old man who one day walking in the woods with his grandson, came upon a tanuki caught in a hunter's trap and set it free. Later on after the little boy died suddenly and the old man is on his death bed, the tanuki, repaying the old man for his kindness, transforms into the old mans grandson and stays with him till he passes.
  • In the anime InuYasha, a tanuki named Hachi occasionally assists the main characters by transporting them. He places a green leaf on his head to become a gigantic creature that resembles an ambulatory sock more than anything else.
  • In the anime Naruto, the tanuki Shukaku is one of nine demons sealed within persons, giving them supernatural powers. Its host, Gaara, enjoys the ability to move and levitate sand at will, and sand moves to shield and protect him regardless of his will. These gifts, however, are at the cost of not being able to sleep, and an unstable personality. In extreme circumstances Shukaku may physically manifest as a giant creature made of sand. The story of Shukaku is partially a reference to Bunbuku chagama- the demon was originally a priest sealed in a tea kettle.
  • In the MMORPG [Ragnarok Online, there is a tanuki-inspired monster called Smokie. Smokies are raccoon (or raccoon dog) monsters that once tamed as pets, may be prompted to perform a "trick" in which it either transforms into a leaf or uses a leaf to magically facilitate a vanishing act. Smokies commonly drop an item called a "Raccoon Leaf", which is an ingredient for a quest headgear that looks like a large leaf on the character's forehead when equipped called "Huge Leaf".
  • The mascot of the anime convention Anime Mid-Atlantic is Tanuki-chan, a kemonomimi with raccoon/tanuki-like features.
  • In Princess Raccoon, a 2005 film by director Seijun Suzuki, Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi portrays Tanuki-hime, a tanuki princess who falls in love with a human prince.
  • The Japanese punk band Melt Banana recorded a song entitled "Pidgeon-Headed Raccoon-Dog".
  • The comic story Moth & Tanuki by Ian C. Thomas, appearing in Australian manga anthology, OzTAKU, and the monthly kids' magazine MANIA (2007).

[edit] References

  1. http://www.comingsoon.net/news/dvdreviewsnews.php?id=10819

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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